In the preseason, I wrote about five questions that the Philadelphia Flyers faced that would determine their fate this season.
One-sixth of the way through the 48-game season, the Flyers have the worst record in hockey at 2-6 (Calgary has fewer points but has played only five games).
Not surprisingly, four of the five questions from the preseason have been major problems for the Flyers. Here's a look:
1. Which Ilya Bryzgalov will they get? The goaltender was an enigma in his first season with the Flyers, but he’s capable of being among the league’s best.
Answer: Bryzgalov has been the elite goalie the Flyers hoped for when they signed him to a nine-year deal. He has been their best player so far. He’s tied for seventh in the league with a .924 save percentage, and his 2.19 goals-against average ranks eighth. Without his sterling performance in a 2-1 win over the Rangers, the Flyers would be 1-7. He also has avoided getting distracted by the media.
2. Will the defense be good enough? The Flyers failed to replace Chris Pronger with another elite blue-liner, and they have age and injury issues as well.
Answer: One of those issues caught up with them quickly, as injury-prone Andrej Meszaros hurt his shoulder last week and is expected to miss about a month — which is one-third of the lockout-shortened season. The rest of the defense has been lackluster in front of Bryzgalov. Luke Schenn, the big offseason trade acquisition, unfortunately has been as advertised: He racks up hits and has a big shot, but he’s like a pylon, slow moving and slow to react to plays.
3. Will anyone have a sophomore slump? Five of the Flyers’ top 12 forwards were rookies last season, and they can’t afford for someone such as Matt Read (24 goals) to suffer a drop-off.
Answer: Read seemed the most likely candidate for a sophomore slump since he was a 25-year-old rookie who hadn’t been a big-time prospect. But he’s been the best of the second-year guys. Sean Couturier and Brayden Schenn, both expected to break out this season after spending the lockout playing in the minors, have been underwhelming — though we are just eight games into the season.
4. How will they deal with the compact season? Peter Laviolette, like every other coach in the league, will have to try to keep his team healthy but prepared.
Answer: Just about everything has gone wrong. The Flyers have been crippled by injuries: Danny Briere (wrist) missed the first four games, Scott Hartnell (foot) and Meszaros both have month-long injuries and Wayne Simmonds suffered whiplash Friday night against Washington. The Flyers have lost the second half of each of their back-to-backs so far. And while every team had only a weeklong training camp with no preseason games, for whatever reasons the Flyers have looked sloppier than most teams.
5. Can Claude Giroux stay at an elite level? The new captain was called the best player in the world by Laviolette last season, and the Flyers need him to be a Hart Trophy candidate again.
Answer: Giroux scored in each of the first two games, but since then he has done almost nothing. There are several likely reasons: First, he lost linemate Jaromir Jagr in free agency and Hartnell to injury; second, teams are focusing their defense on him after his breakout season; and third, he seems to be trying to do too much at times to compensate for the rest of the team’s shortcomings. It’s early, and there is plenty of time for Giroux to get hot. But he has been disappointing so far.